A new criminal offence to crack down on dog thefts has moved one step closer to coming into force.

It is being added to the Kept Animals Bill which includes a range of provisions to improve the welfare of kept animals, and will mean that dog-nappers could face up to five years in prison.

The campaign has been ongoing, with a parliamentary debate taking place back in June discussing the proposal after a petition arose demanding action on the problem which was signed by more than half a million people.

Dog theft has also been something on the radar for people in Wiltshire. Despite not having as many cases as other areas, people have been keen to prevent their four-legged friends from being the next victims.

The police also set up a watch dog earlier this year to monitor the crime and the effect on the county.

The force also invited people to give them even more insight into the problem. Wiltshire and Swindon Police and Crime Commissioner Angus Macpherson supported the national survey designed to understand public perception of dog theft, enforcement and the prosecution of offenders.

Mr Macpherson felt passionate about the issue, and said earlier in February: “As a nation of dog lovers it is no surprise pet theft, particularly dog theft, is a growing concern for the public. With fears being perpetuated further by the increase in harrowing reports in the national media we are seeing about people’s dogs being snatched by criminals.

“As a dog owner myself, I understand that pets are very much considered part of our families rather than being viewed simply as our property. This type of callous crime has a devastating impact on victims and the penalty does not seem to adequately reflect the seriousness of the crime.”

It is now hoped that the new consequences in place will help prevent the issue altogether.

A spokesperson for the RSPCA said: “We're so pleased to hear that the government has announced a new criminal offence for pet abduction in the Kept Animals Bill. We hope this will act as a real deterrent and crackdown on this awful crime which is devastating to animals and their families.

“The proposed law applies to dogs, but the government has also recognised how much other animals mean to people and put in provision to extend it to other pets.

“Pet theft is a heartbreaking and extremely distressing situation for both pets and their owners.

“We would encourage all dog owners to take extra precautions to protect their pooches from thieves by neutering their pets, ensuring they are microchipped with up-to-date contact details registered, ensuring they wear a collar with contact details embroidered or an engraved ID tag.”